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I’ve been a jazz drummer forever, but rock was the foundation, back in the early 70’s. Recently, I revisited an album that transformed not only drumming but my perception of playing. It’s feeding my soul more than I expected, and I’d like to share some thoughts about that …

 

In 1970, and I was a kid growing up in Newark, Delaware. I had a neighbor who was a little older, and she was into the coolest music. She loaned me a copy of Black Sabbath, and I can honestly remember the first few moments of the opening track like it was yesterday.

 


 

“Black Sabbath” starts with quiet rainfall, then a distant chime … and then the metal. Three notes. Three simple notes … followed by drummer Bill Ward’s deep tom fills, and Ozzy’s unmistakable dark to the depth of your soul voice.

 

The unadulterated purity of musical truth, right there in your face, not racing to the next measure. Just being. A simple hi-hat pulse to carry the rest of the song, dressed with Ward’s equally understated fills. Truly musical drumming, on a level I still look back at with great respect. His use of dynamics in the fills made all the difference.

 

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“The Wizard” lit it up with raw harmonica, then Tony Iommi’s fuzz tones from below. Ward’s rock beat had more bounce to it than just a solid slam, something I’m sure he owed to his years of jazz inspiration. His sparse use of an occasional open hi-hat was more like a scoop, but to me, it showed some intentional execution that was placed exactly where he wanted it to happen. And this in itself was a further drumming lesson.

 

The lengthy “Wasp/Behind the Wall of Sleep/Bassically/N.I.B.” starts with a jazz waltz! Then it transitions to a solid Ward pulse, a perfect example of how Black Sabbath could and did shift musical gears on a dime. This too was a lesson in drumming that I was really curious about as a kid. Bill Ward could play MUCH more than just a beat. He played music.

 

“Wicked World” … what other songs of the day began with a classic 4/4 jazz hi-hat groove? Then straight into wall-slamming backbeat? The shifts back and forth from feels were what got my attention, because you didn’t know where things were gonna go at all. And about 2 minutes in, a light jazz ride of sorts and strumming guitar, followed by Iommi ripping into his humbuckers with pure raw strings. A twenty second journey into no-frills, right in your face, be a musician bit of grind.

 

 

“A Bit of Finger/Sleeping Village/Warning” is the closing tunes, or compilation of songs, depending on you look at it. I can best describe it as Ward and Iommi letting ‘er rip in a variety of feels, from blues/rock to heavy metal shred. And by the way, throughout every track, bassist Geezer Butler is about as solid and understated a player as you’d have heard in the day. He’s so there you don’t even notice him. And that’s pretty damn there!

 


 

Black Sabbath was recorded in one day. ONE DAY. October 16, 1969. And on that day, heavy metal was born. It was released released on 13 February 1970 in the United Kingdom and on 1 June 1970 in the United States, according to a wiki article. It captured the truth of the moment, on this stuff called tape. No digital cleanup, no Pro Tools, no click track. Just four guys and a sound.

 

I was 11 when I heard this album, and man, did it ever imprint. I worked hard to understand Bill Ward’s drumming, and only came to appreciate and grasp it further once I got into jazz a few years later. Over the decades, I faded away from rock and metal, became more of a jazz fusion player, went to the extreme end of polyrhythms and odd meters, but sadly, lost touch with the stuff that lit the fires in the first place. You can play a lifetime and master many things, but if you lose contact with your roots, you just float.

 

“I was born without you, baby, but my feelings were a little bit too strong… just a little bit too strong.” These are the last lines that Ozzy sings, and for me, they mean this: I’m grateful that those feelings were strong enough to last and lead me back to the search for musical truth and roots, because this is what feeds your soul and reminds of where your path began.

 


 

As I prepare to return to my hometown of Austin, Texas, in a few weeks, I have felt an overwhelming urge – and really – a desperate need, to reconnect with such musical truth. What the guys in Black Sabbath laid down over 40 years ago remains as valid a statement of moment as any I can find.

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So here’s to the boys from Birmingham, the art they created, and to doing a bunch of that – from the heart, mistakes and all – be they slips or slides. Because What they are a bigger part of is the point. And that only took 40+ years to figure out…